radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Closing the Seeing-Being Gap.

Jan 23, 2024

Three years ago, a friend who has been a scenarios consultant for about 30 years told me that his work was in greater demand than it had been at any time since the late 1990s. It wasn’t hard to guess why: most organizations didn’t have contingency plans for anything like the disruption of work (and, at least temporarily, the transformations of the larger economy and culture) that accompanied a global pandemic. Many organizational leaders emerged understandably shaken, and more than a few were looking to broaden their thinking and shore up their adaptability. You know, just in case.

That upsurge of interest in scenarios is part of a much larger trend of increasing interest in practices for understanding and shaping futures amid a sense of high uncertainty and perpetual crisis. In business, this has manifested over the last half-decade as a growing appetite for trend reports, tech forecasts, and foresight work. In culture, a related impulse has shown up as a much-reported on wave of fascination with and consumption of new age spirituality and the occult (see also: WitchTok, Occulture, Progressive Occultism, etc.). Again… totally understandable?

Now, I’m not qualified to comment on internet witchcraft, but I have appreciated and benefited from the boom in foresight and futures work. The latter two, at least, offer something real, replicable, and valuable: an opportunity for organizations to “see” future possibilities, things that could and - in some cases - probably will be. Even on its own, the promise of a glimpse is tantalizing, but without a way to operationalize it, a glimpse of a possible or probable future doesn’t do a firm much good.

When it comes to futures, then, there’s a gap that exists between seeing and being (to riff on the old idea of a knowing-doing gap). For an organization to close that seeing-being gap and actually become the future it has envisioned, foresight isn’t enough. In an article for HBR last month, Amy Webb argues that companies need to meaningfully integrate foresight and strategy throughout the organization. I’d go a step further to suggest that translating organizational vision not only into strategy but into actual action and then sustaining a productive conversation between vision and action probably requires a deeper dual capability that we describe to our clients at radical as a kind of “ambidexterity.”

Pascal really unpacks this in the book, but here, I’ll just paraphrase the very useful idea of organizational ambidexterity (first explored by Michael Tushman and Charles O’Reilly) as the ability to build for tomorrow with one hand while effectively managing today with the other – and keeping all of the potentially contradictory processes, structures, and success metrics required straight and sensible at the higher leadership levels.

It certainly isn’t easy, but this capability is essential if we ever hope to realize the value of a future vision through bold action. In other words, it’s exactly what’s needed for a business to close the gap between seeing and actually being the future. @Jeffrey